- Associated Press - Sunday, March 8, 2015

MITCHELL, S.D. (AP) - In her mind, she’s always been the caretaker. That’s why it was hard for Ardis Beck to handle the role of patient.

But in December, Beck, 59, was in that position - undergoing open heart surgery to fix a valve problem and an aneurysm in her heart, caused by a birth defect she’s always had. The Mitchell resident was in a position that was all-too-familiar for her family.

Three years ago, Beck’s husband, Morris, had a heart transplant at the University of Minnesota, after suffering a heart attack 15 years prior and receiving the implementation of an assistive pumping system to help his heart. Morris is now doing well, and Ardis continues on her own road to recovery.

As February and National Heart Month came to a close, Beck said she wanted to share her story with others as a way to raise awareness regarding heart issues.

“It’s important to be an advocate for health,” she told The Daily Republic (https://bit.ly/1B5C1S9 ). “With Morris, we tried to share our story with others. I guess it’s in our genes to be educators.”

In a Daily Republic story about Morris and his 2012 heart transplant, Ardis said it was “emotional turmoil” to see her husband go through all he did. Facing her own heart surgery, she said she didn’t want to worry her family.

“I can’t say I was fearful going into it, and that’s because of all the background our family has had going into it,” she said. “It was hard being on the other side of the table, because I’m the one that did the nurturing, and now it was my family doting on me.”

The first time she knew something was different about her heart was in 1985, when she was pregnant with her twin daughters. A doctor told her she had a heart murmur, something that’s been known to occur with pregnant women. A few years later, doctors did an ultrasound on her heart and saw that Beck had a bicuspid aortic valve to her heart, and instead of three flaps, she only had two due to a birth defect.

The situation was monitored regularly by doctors for years, she said, until last year, when the Becks went on vacation to Yellowstone National Park. There, she experienced shortness of breath, fatigue and pains in parts of her body. In November, doctors told her she needed to have surgery as soon as possible.

On Dec. 10, she had the surgery at Avera Heart Hospital in Sioux Falls. Compounding the issues, Beck said she suffered with bouts of kidney failure following the surgery. She was in the hospital for nine days and had to wait three weeks to start cardiac rehab in Mitchell because of a lack of fluid in her lungs.

“I certainly had a few things happen that made things more difficult,” she said.

While Ardis’ heart surgery was precipitated by a birth defect, her doctors considered her to be relatively healthy, with good eating habits and exercise. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that more than 67 million Americans have high blood pressure, which makes those people more likely to die from heart disease or strokes.

The healthy eating habits for Beck have been reinforced since surgery. Eating three healthy meals a day and staying on the outside aisles of the grocery store, where things like fresh fruits and vegetables are available, helps her make decisions when shopping.

“It’s not one day you’re OK and the next day you’re not,” she said. “It changes over time.”

Her primary therapy method has been the treadmill, working in short walks regularly to build back her strength. She started first with 10 minutes and worked her way up to 20 minutes. She limits her lifting, however, to allow her heart and its related systems time to build strength.

Beck said she doesn’t feel better than she did before the surgery, but knows that breakthrough is coming. She believes one thing has been helpful for her recovery: returning to work as a special education teacher at L.B. Williams Elementary School in Mitchell.

“I needed to get back to doing what I love as quickly as I could,” she said.

Her advice to others in a similar situation is to be as comfortable as possible with doctors and surgeons.

“Be as relaxed as you can and believe that you will be OK,” Beck said, then pointing to her head. “There’s a lot that is going on up here that’s 99 percent of going into open heart surgery.”


Information from: The Daily Republic, https://www.mitchellrepublic.com

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